We have seen it happen. To some degree, we have all experienced the single ribbon that runs through our lives, connecting us to each other in ways that should not surprise us but usually does. It wraps our stories into one perfect package that sometimes makes us marvel at the seemingly random events that bring us to the place where we look back and finally see the God-ordained connections that were always there.

This ribbon is glaringly evident in the story of LeAnn Newsom, a wife and mother of eight children, whose life has been a series of not-at-all random events that brought her and her husband, Scott, to create For Life Ministries in 2011. It is a story that began with shattered moments.

Running Prodigal

LeAnn was born to teenage parents who divorced early, and at a young age she suffered abuse from someone she should have been able to trust. She and her mom found themselves roaming from place to place in constant turmoil. Her teenage, rebellious path to self-destruction was textbook perfect; she calls it “running prodigal.”

The summer before her senior year of high school, she broke into someone’s property with some friends and dove into shallow water, breaking her back. She was drunk, and it wasn’t the first time.

“The courts told my mother, ‘Enough!’ and sent me to rehab, and in the years between 1999 and 2002, healing came as I drew closer to the Lord,” LeAnn remembers.

When LeAnn and Scott married, each already had one child, and their family grew when their daughter was born that first year. LeAnn developed rheumatoid arthritis and had been advised not to have more children, but they successfully expanded their family once more. Thinking their future was clear, they opened a family business.

Things looked fantastic for the Newsom family.

Losing Everything And Stepping Up

Then the economy tanked. They lost the house and their business and had to file bankruptcy, which was particularly embarrassing since Scott was a financial adviser. They lived in rentals and kept their heads low. LeAnn prayed for clarity, and God showed her she had been prideful by keeping her best for others, giving Him her leftovers. She says He told her, “I want you to minister from your broken spots, in all your hurt. Serve my people.” She did not know what He meant, but the moment was unforgettable and changed her life’s trajectory.

At a women’s retreat with her church, friends suggested LeAnn step up and do women’s ministry. She thought it was the dumbest thing she had ever heard! It required working with women, and she didn’t particularly like women.

Some days later, at lunch with her senior pastor’s wife and friends, the subject resurfaced. LeAnn told them she would pray about it but had no intention of doing so. Her mind flashed back to age 15, to a time when she knew God had called her to lead well. Instead, she had run prodigal. She wanted to bury that past in the dirt, not share it! She explained her position to the pastor, and God used his response to change her thinking.

“I’m not as concerned with where you’ve been as I am with where you’re going,” he told her. “I see so many following you. You need to consider where you’re leading them, or are you going to keep hiding behind your stuff?” LeAnn agreed to volunteer, but only until they found someone else.

Awakened On The Amazon

It is no surprise to her now that God used her work with the women’s ministry to accomplish His purpose. That first year, LeAnn took a mission trip with the ladies to Brazil. While floating down the Amazon, LeAnn clearly felt God’s stirring. He wanted her to invite Deborah, a translator she had met days before, to come live with them in the States and go to school. It was such a strange thing to hear, but with reluctance LeAnn obeyed.

LeAnn’s words, “I think I am supposed to bring you back to America,” startled Deborah. As it happened, that very moment Deborah had been praying for a way to get to the States and continue her education. Her home life was in chaos, and she needed direction. Before her flight back, LeAnn promised they would see each other again and gave Deborah a necklace to keep until they reunited in the States. God provided the means, worked on Scott’s heart, and in 2005 Deborah arrived, becoming a forever-family member.

Deborah continued to lead LeAnn and her team on trips to Brazil, always translating for them. One trip home was particularly significant. A family came to the airport to see the Newsoms off, and they brought their young son Stephen. He was lying face down, asleep, as they said their goodbyes. LeAnn boarded the plane and settled in her seat, but found herself burdened for the young boy. She felt strongly that someday she would be asked to provide housing for Stephen. She was confused because Stephen was already being cared for, but she committed to pray for him. Years later, she shared her burden with Scott. He was adamant that her feeling had nothing to do with them. The house was too small, they couldn’t financially afford to take in another person, and Stephen was fine!

LeAnn continued to pray.

Help This Boy

In 2010, LeAnn was back in Brazil, doing women’s conferences with Deborah, when she got a call to visit some boys at a nearby children’s home. It was not at all convenient and did not fit into their schedule, but they agreed to stop by for a short visit. When they arrived, the director asked if they would sing for a boy named Erik. It was his birthday, and it would make him smile.

As they sang, LeAnn heard so clearly, she thought it was out loud, “Help this boy!” She looked around, and as she suspected, no one else had heard it. Her heart raced as she tried to understand. That night, as LeAnn prepared to journal, she opened her Bible for guidance, and her eyes landed on James 1:27. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …”

At home, LeAnn shared her experience with Scott, but he was clear that adoption was not their calling. She continued to talk to God about what she knew she heard, and God was speaking to Scott’s heart,too. Later, he agreed Erik would be their son.

They began the complicated adoption process in February 2010, and were distressed to learn Erik was not on the adoption list. But another boy was — Wendell. They had already invested so much financially and emotionally, but after much prayer and conversation, Scott and LeAnn agreed to adopt both boys.

In May of 2011, they received news from friends who lived in Brazil. Erik had been reunited with his sisters, Chloe and Emily. Pictures arrived, and suddenly the girls were more than just names. Scott and LeAnn felt they were free-falling, but they were faithful to pray and knew God would catch them eventually.

They agreed to adopt all four children.

From Life, For Life

While they waited to bring their new children home, Scott and LeAnn founded For Life Ministries, born out of all they had been through. LeAnn stepped down from the women’s ministry position that brought her to Brazil in the first place to devote time to For Life and to their growing family. Seeking to be a voice for the voiceless, For Life Ministries made plans to work with the oppressed, orphaned and outcast both locally and abroad. They focused their energies on a three-pronged mission: Love one; serve one; feed one.

One day, LeAnn was working at Manna House, a local mission where she often volunteered, when the director asked her to pray over a 12-year-old boy whose story was incredible. LeAnn was stunned to learn his name — Stephen! Questions flooded her mind. Was it possible? Could this actually be the Stephen God had stirred in her heart years ago in an airport an ocean away? Could this be the Stephen she still prayed for?

LeAnn talked with Scott, and the whole family went to meet him. He was a frustrated, angry boy. He challenged them to take him home with an I-dare-you attitude, so they invited him for the weekend. He was difficult, but they loved him through it. On Sunday, they expected to return him to a family member, but there was a phone call. Could Stephen just stay?

They filled out all necessary paperwork to become his guardians.

Looping Back

Finally, it was time to bring their boys home from Brazil, but two days before the Newsoms left, they received a phone call. The staff felt it would not be in Wendell’s best interests to make the trip back with them. They believed his issues were so severe he would not do well in a large family so far away. A family with no children would be a better fit. The Newsoms were heartbroken at the thought of leaving Wendell behind after promising him he would be theirs. After all, this was the child who had paved the way for their adoption of Erik, Chloe and Emily. The family had one short night to decide, and with prayer, ultimately felt peace in their decision to trust the workers’ judgment.

They arrived in Brazil and were delighted to learn a local couple had chosen Wendell to become a part of their family. Their children were grown, so they would be able to provide the attention Wendell needed. His adoptive family? Just as God would have it, translator Deborah’s own parents!

Erik joined the Newsom family, but his arrival confused and frustrated Stephen. He didn’t understand why Erik had been adopted, why he was a full member of the family when Stephen was there first. Was Erik more important? Quickly, Scott and LeAnn completed the paperwork and adopted Stephen, bringing closure to the stir LeAnn’s heart felt years earlier.

In April 2013, Chloe and Emily came home, and all ten Newsoms were finally together. The entire experience caused Scott and LeAnn to reconsider For Life Ministries’ intricate parts. They began to question what they could do with all they had learned and asked themselves, “What is our call in our short time here?”

Since then, they have chosen to align themselves with other organizations that share their heart for the helpless and hopeless. One of those partnerships connected them with a smaller, local Christian school that agreed to take Stephen and their three non-English speaking children on as students and journey with the family through the rocky places. All six school-age children now attend Valley Fellowship Christian Academy.

I Used To Be One Of Them

This past Christmas season, LeAnn and her daughter Gracie were back at Manna House. It was raining and very cold. There was a mother waiting in line outside with her baby, and they were both soaked. LeAnn offered her an umbrella, but she declined at first, saying they were already wet. LeAnn asked her to keep it as the umbrella would surely give the baby some protection.

That night at dinner, Gracie began to tell her family the story when Emily stopped her with a question. “Why were they standing outside in the rain?” Even in the orphanage, Emily had never had to experience what it meant to stand in line waiting for food.

Then Stephen spoke up. “You know, I used to be one of them. Those people you see there standing in line just to get food? That used to be me. But I’ve been warm and safe for so long, I’m starting to forget what that felt like.”

LeAnn told him he must never forget. Experiences like hunger, cold, loneliness, uncertainty—that’s where the passion for helping others comes from, and remembering them all is important.

This isn’t just LeAnn’s story or even the Newsom’s story. It’s part of God’s greater story—part of the overall ribbon that binds us all. In His sovereignty, He took a woman out of her brokenness and led her to work in women’s ministry, which brought her to Brazil where she met people who played pivotal roles in adding to her family. The overseas adoption process was an experience that inspired her and her husband to start a local ministry that introduced her to another son and brought her to their children’s new school.

What an amazing ribbon THAT is!